I drove to the nursing home to visit a dear old friend. She was sleeping when I entered her room, so I pulled up a chair to wait.
Waiting would not be a chore. As I gazed at her visage, relaxed in sleep, I explored memories of our friendship over several years. My friend had some hard chapters in her story, and those chapters were increasing with age and deteriorating health. And yet an important line of defence was a robust and earthy sense of humour that sometimes left tears of laughter on my cheek.
My reverie was interrupted by a soft voice. A staff person was leaning into the room. “While you’re waiting, would you like to talk to Pearl? She doesn’t get many visitors.” As we crossed the hall, I was informed, “Pearl is blind.”
Sight limitations aside, Pearl did not live in a dark and secluded place. She was delighted with having company. We quickly and honestly touched on important parts of her story, her family, her passions and her loneliness.
Suddenly, Pearl turned a face toward me that was as radiant as I’ve always pictured Christ on the mountaintop. And her words were, “Do you know what happened today? I think I saw yellow!” She hurried on to say that when the care aide had come by that morning to help her into her clothes, she had sensed yellow before her face. She had asked, “Are you wearing yellow?” It was true. Pearl added, with obvious emotion in her face, “It has been a very long time since I’ve seen yellow!”
It was a holy moment. When the experience is that powerful, that emotional, that real, it becomes about hope. It becomes about a reason to live with joy and passion.
The church has not done a good job of pointing, of opening eyes, of offering blessing in situations like Pearl’s and her glimpse of yellow. We have held back from naming spontaneous moments of joy—of excitement—as events of spiritual importance. We have stumbled to point to lives healed, struggles conquered, as steps on a holy path, unless they are accompanied by holy language.
And yet, sitting in Pearl’s presence, gazing into her face, hearing her voice, reading her emotion, that was about the greatness of God.
We are created in the image of God. In that simple and yet deeply complex notion, I find the stuff that makes my life good and my spirit soar. Every person to whom I’ve offered the dignity of respect has returned something of that holy heritage. A corollary would then be that when I have not experienced that glimpse of God from another, it is connected to my own withholding of respect and dignity.
Yet we of the church have not produced language or theology to point in that direction. We have largely assumed that when God is glimpsed, that glimpse will be generated by the people of God.
Can the people of God be more inclusive? Can the people of God be those referred to in Genesis 1:26? Can the people of God include my friend in the truck-driving world who insists that the church would combust if he stepped in the door? Can it include incarcerated friends who feel the need to hide vulnerability behind facades of anger and intimidation? Can it include the street person who visits me in the church, and then my phone disappears?
I hope so. Because, like Pearl, I want my face to shine.
Ed Olfert (firstname.lastname@example.org) discovers awe in central Saskatchewan.